Healthy Hacking with the Treadmill Elliptical Desk: My journey to staying healthy while hacking!

Carrie Roberts*//

I’m a red teamer, I love my job but I spend way too much time at a desk in front of a computer. This year I wanted to find a way to continue spending a lot of time at the computer without letting my physical health decline. This article will describe my journey to a solution that I love. It involves a combination of a treadmill desk and an under desk elliptical machine with some extra magic thrown in. The result is an awesome setup that allows me to stay fit while doing what I love – legally hacking computers and networks.

The Treadmill

My first thought was to get a treadmill desk. I knew that I wouldn’t be up for walking all day but I wanted to be able to walk at least 4 miles a day while still working. I looked into desks that could adjust to both standing and sitting positions but I didn’t like any of them. They were too small to accommodate all the screens and hardware I wanted on my desk. I ended up building my own fixed desk at standing height. You’ll see my efforts at solving the sitting problem later.

I already had a treadmill, so I just cut the arms off of it and mounted the control center to the side of the desk. I can very comfortably walk at the 1.5 mph setting while typing and moving the mouse precisely. I can push that up to 2 mph if I’m willing to be a little wiggly with my mouse control. Of course, if you have meetings where you aren’t trying to type you can go normal walking speeds and really rack up the miles. My goal is to walk 4 miles per day and this has worked well. At one point I started competing with my husband and was walking up to 15 miles per day! We have since calmed down and keep it to a reasonable number of miles per day.

I keep my treadmill at the maximum incline setting while I walk. I figure this is just extra calories burned and consider it a bonus. In fact, for every mile I walk I gain 504 feet in elevation. That’s over 50 flights of stairs every mile! I love knowing I’m getting that extra bit of workout in even though I’m walking slow.

The video below shows the desk in action. It starts out at speed 1 and then I increase it to speed 2. I like to work somewhere in-between those two speeds usually.

Awesome, now that’s multi-tasking!

The Chair

Now sometimes you just want to sit down, right? Right! My first attempt at solving this problem was a bar stool. But it really wasn’t very comfortable.  The stool was at an angle and didn’t have a foot rest or a back rest.

So I ordered a special stool and built a little platform to give the stool a level surface to sit on.

This was a better, but not that great over all. I could sit for about 30 minutes before I had a leg going numb. Besides that, it was a little dangerous. I accidently bumped the start button a couple times and was launched off the back of the treadmill while perched atop the stool!

My husband had come up with a solution where he built a wooden deck that he could rotate down over the treadmill as a platform for an office chair when he didn’t want to walk. He would then lift his office chair onto the deck when he wanted to sit. I didn’t love this idea because I didn’t want to lift an office chair multiple times a day. Instead, I asked him to make me a deck on wheels and here it is!

The deck has fixed (non-swivel) wheels on the bottom and pushes forward and back very easily, even with the office chair on top.

There is a wooden border around the top edge to keep me from rolling my office chair off the deck. It works perfectly, and I don’t dread the transition from walking to sitting.

Something to keep in mind is that my head is 3 inches from the ceiling when I stand on the deck. Don’t turn that ceiling fan on! If you are taller, you might have to watch your head when climbing into your office chair.

I love this solution. You never realize how good it feels to sit in an office chair until you’ve sat on a stool for 7 months!

The Elliptical

After I started sitting down, I began feeling bad about not exercising. To solve this problem, I decided to purchase an under desk elliptical machine. It took some creativity to figure out how to mount it so it would be out of the way for walking and rolling the deck in. This is what I came up with and I like it.

The pedals rotate out of the way for rolling the deck in and out.

Once I roll the deck up and sit in the chair, I can lower the pedals with my feet and start exercising as shown in the video below.

There is a tension adjuster you can set for how hard you want your workout to be. Unfortunately, if you have too much resistance, the pedaling can cause your chair to push back. This is a bit of a nuisance and I had to install “seat belts” to deal with this issue. I use little bungees mounted to my desk to hold on to the arms of my office chair to keep me from rolling away while pedaling.

The elliptical comes with a display that can sit on your desk to monitor your progress. I like that. It makes me feel like I’m getting something done and I can compare my workout to previous days. The cord it comes with is not very long but it is a basic aux cord like you use for head phones so a headphone extender cable will get you where you need to go.

With my treadmill desk and a comfortable “sitting while exercising” option – I’m in heaven. However, I did discover one more ergonomic issue I had to deal with.

I woke up one night with my right arm completely numb. I had been sleeping on my back and hadn’t even been laying on it. I was pretty sure that it was the left arm that goes numb during a heart attack so I woke my arm back up and went to sleep. Then I woke up again to an ache in my shoulder ball joint and a numb arm again. A little Googling and a call to the physical therapist and I knew that I was spending too much time crunched forward over a keyboard. I needed to start strengthening my back/shoulder muscles to help me keep better posture.

The Exercise Band

To help with strengthening my shoulder blade muscles (or whatever it’s called) I installed an exercise band. I keep a timer going that reminds me to do 10 reps with the exercise band on a regular basis.

Yeah, no more shoulder pain with numbness in my arms!

Other Features

It’s amazing what just a little bit of exercise does to your body temperature. You may have noticed the fan off to the side. I have a remote control fan with varying speeds which I use often to cool down while walking. I originally had another fan that wasn’t remote controlled but it was really annoying to have to reach around to turn it on and off or adjust it. Adjustments are required often because when you stop walking and are a little sweaty you quickly get too cold.

I’ve also got a ceiling fan/light combination with a remote control and the remote is mounted underneath my desk. This is handy, because heaven forbid I might have to leave my desk!

Another thing I love about my desk is the 12 outlet power strip I have mounted under my desk as well as the cord trays to keep all those wires organized and off the floor.

I’m a leg crosser. I like to cross my legs when I sit and it annoys me when I can’t. I know, I’m so picky right?! For my desk, I made sure there were no supports holding up the desktop where my legs would hit. The image below shows how the desktop is only ¾ of an inch thick where my legs go and the 2×4 supports skirt around this area to avoid being in the way.

Lastly, I’m an addict to screen real-estate. I have two wide screen monitors but if I put them side by side my neck gets sore from looking to the side. I was able to find an adjustable monitor mount that worked to mount my monitors, one above the other. The lower one is at an angle so I am looking at it straight on while standing. I prefer two monitors over one large monitor because I like how the physical boundary lets me have my virtual machines in full screen mode while still only taking up half my screen real estate.

Well that’s it. I hope you’ve enjoyed your virtual tour of my desk. I’ve included links to various items I’ve ordered for my desk in case you are interested.

FitDesk Elliptical

Remote Controlled Fan

12 Outlet Power Strip

Cable Management Trays

Double Monitor Mount

*We always appreciate when Carrie sends us a guest blog! Find her on twitter here!

Check out a related blog of Carrie’s: Got Enough Monitors?

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